Themes in Raymond Carver's Literature
In Short Cuts, by Raymond Carver, characters experience trials and problems in their lives, whether extreme such as in " A Small, Good Thing" and "Lemonade" or nominal such as in " Vitamins". They all seem to depict these struggles as uphill battles which the characters cannot and mostly do not overcome. The characters throughout Carver's "Short Cuts" struggle through their lives in private desperation, often to ultimately realize that they are bound to the truth of who they really are, which is shown in the story "Neighbors."
In "Neighbors", Bill and Arlene Miller are a couple with menial jobs who give credence to the saying "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence". They are dissatisfied with their own lives and look to the lives of their neighbors to find happiness in their own. Once a happy couple, they often feel that "they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow (13)." They did not discuss how they could change their own lives, but merely compared their lives with the Stones. "They talked about it sometimes, mostly in comparison with the lives of their neighbors (13)." The Millers thought that the " Stones lived a fuller and brighter life(13)."
Bill especially feels envious of his neighbors as Jim Stone has a good job that allows him and his wife to travel in conjunction with his work. " Well, I wish it was us (14), " Jim says as he waves goodbye to his neighbors on their way to another vacation.
The Miller are asked to house sit for their neighbors. The each go into the apartment separately, trying to uncover some aspect of the Stone's lives, keeping it a secret from the other what they are doing. It is ultimately realized at the end that they are both doing more than feeding the cat when they go into the apartment.
The Miller's searching through their neighbor's apartment is symbolic of their search for meaning in their own lives. Because they are not satisfied with the way they live, they project the Stones life onto their own, to the extent of pretending to live in their apartment, if only for one moment.